June 17, 2014

Do Your Homework, Get More Referrals

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Don't be a robot -- treat your referral provider like a human being.

Everybody wants more referrals, right? Well, get in line. I mean, literally, there is a line of people waiting for a referral from the busy, important person you just sent "HEY, HOW HAVE U BEEN?"

Getting an answer -- and eventually, a referral -- isn't necessarily about timing, or how important you are, or even how often you communicate (although all those things help). Sometimes it's about standing out, and in today's overworked, too-busy-to-stop-texting-while-I-plow-through-this-crowded-library-parking-lot world, just talking to another person like they're a unique individual is a pretty good way to stand out.

For all the cynicism about social networking, "liking", and everything else (shared by me, of course), one of the good things about today's connectedness is that it's easier than ever to learn about what makes people tick. Some people like board games, some people have kids, and some people are really interested in a local charity. If you share one of these interests, they can be a great way to connect with someone in a meaningful way. You know, like an actual relationship, instead of a purely transactional one. And who are you more likely to refer -- the person who emails you the most, or the one who's connected with you in a meaningful way?

Contactually's Tony Cappaert recently presented his system for building meaningful, relevant follow-ups at RETSO, in the hopes of helping RETSO attendees foster better, stronger relationships with the people they reach out to every day. He also walked me through it, and I thought I'd share it with you. Here we go!

This is how Tony shared his presentation with me. I think I got most of it, despite the echo.

How to Get More Referrals (In 4 Easy Steps!)

Step 1 : Make It Personal

One of the reasons your referral sources don't have time for you is that they're people, and people have lots of interesting things on their minds already. So... what are those things? Tools like Newsle, InsideView, and the venerable Google Alerts allow to find out what's going on with people professionally, without rooting through old MySpace accounts like a weirdo. When your conversation is about something the recipient actually cares about (say, the big merger their company is going through, or the big update to the product they're managing), you can move beyond exchanging pleasantries and get to having an actual, productive dialogue.

Step 2: Share Great Stuff

What else do busy, real-world human being suffer from? INFORMATION OVERLOAD. Thanks to content marketing drones thought leaders like myself, there is an endless stream of interesting, non-interesting, and just flat-out distracting information out there. While a million tech companies battle to solve this problem programmatically, actual people usually deal with this by relying on their personal network to send them good stuff.

Be one of these contributors! Use tools like Nuzzel, Buzzsumo, or even your trusty old RSS reader (last one out turn off the lights) to find something that actually matters to your referral source. Even better, find something that matters to both of you, and send it along with your compliments. Be smart and judicious, though -- your recipient can probably find that "dogs who look like they're driving cars" slideshow on his/her own.

Step 3: Introduce Relevant People to Each Other

Nothing fosters a trusted relationship like being a great source for meeting great new people. Introducing two busy humans with shared passions, interests, or professional goals is not only useful for your referral source, but a great way to help two people at the same time.

It should be obvious, but don't abuse or oversimplify this. The value you bring is the good judgement that comes with connecting the right people, not random combinations from your address book with vague industry ties. Fortunately, services like Klout and Facebook (hot new company, check them out) are great ways to vet potential introductions for compatibility and usefulness. Do your homework, and you'll find some great matches.

So many ways we can bond.

Step 4: Systematize

Building up a quality relationship takes time, especially if you're going to eventually ask for a referral (don't forget that part). Working within a dedicated system or relationship management tool ensures that your effort stays consistent over time, and that you don't lose track of prior interactions or any personal insight you've gained over time. It's probably not surprising that Tony uses Contactually to manage this process, but what can you say; it's designed for exactly this sort of thing, with features for saving interesting content, keeping notes, and encouraging regular follow-ups. If you continually, regularly engage with your network with useful, interesting interactions, you're going to see a huge uptick in referrals. It's simply a matter of doing it.

See it for yourself.

Tony's full RETSO presentation is online -- I've pulled a few images from it for this post -- and I encourage you to check it out. In addition to reviewing the principles I've summarized here, there's a great real-world example that ties all of this together.

So be helpful, be personal, and create the kind of follow-ups that you'd be most likely to engage with yourself. Simple!